Monday, February 3, 2014

Marc Faber on Bill Gates and Poverty

Poverty in the world is one of the economic and social issues that have preoccupied me the most. How do we reduce or even eliminate poverty? I do not have the answers. Bill Gates in a recent letter to Wall Street Journal, which was based on his Foundation 2013 annual report, tries to find some solutions. I commend him for that even though I have serious reservations about “aid” as proposed by him. Still, the Gates Annual Report is well-worth a read (http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org/en).

Homeless in India
I have encountered extreme poverty everywhere in the world. In the shanty towns and on the streets of Mumbai, Dacca, Soweto, Nairobi, Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, etc. and in the bidon-villes on the outskirt of large French metropolises. Some encounters with poverty I shall never forget.

 A very long time ago, I met a girl in the Philippines  I forgot whether it was in a bar or a nightclub. The next time I saw her, she invited me to her parents’ house. We drove to the outskirt of Manila into the worst slums I had ever seen (against the advice of the taxi driver). The parents’ house was more like a hut without electricity, running water and sanitation in a crowded small lane…. When we got there, the sweaty, overweight father was sitting in the tiny living room. He immediately sent someone to get us two ice-cold San Miguel beers. Naturally, I wanted to pay because in the seventies a beer in the Philippines was still a luxury item. The father, however, refused my offer. We then had a very engaging discussion in Spanish and suddenly my unease vanished and I felt very comfortable in this horribly impoverished environment…..

Much later, I had a very young driver in Madras (now Chennai) who took me around southern India for ten days. When he dropped me off at the airport, I gave him a $100 tip, which was at the time in India quite a lot. A few weeks later my driver wrote a very poignant letter to me saying that I had changed his life with my tip. It had allowed him to buy a bicycle with which he could now reach his work place and his school much faster….

What I want to say is this. Yes, I applaud Bill Gates who wants to improve the world. At least he makes the effort. However, it is equally wrong to look at poor people like lepers who in the past were banished from societies. Poor people have also dignity and honor, they also have happy families, and they are frequently far more generous and compassionate than our wealthy society.

I am not suggesting that we should not fight poverty. However, I doubt we can become “world improvers.” What we can do is trying to help less privileged people around us and interact with them.

I have to say that I have frequently thought about my friend’s heavy father sitting in his tiny house in one of the worst shantytowns I ever saw (much worse than the slums of Africa) and of his generosity, and also about the touching letter my Indian driver sent me. The encounter with extreme poverty may be as beneficial to us who belong to a more privileged class as it is to the poor.